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Martha Quest

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Intelligent, sensitive, and fiercely passionate, Martha Quest is a young woman living on a farm in Africa, feeling her way through the torments of adolescence and early womanhood. She is a romantic idealistic in revolt against the puritan snobbery of her parents, trying to live to the full with every nerve, emotion, and instinct laid bare to experience. For her, this is a Intelligent, sensitive, and fiercely passionate, Martha Quest is a young woman living on a farm in Africa, feeling her way through the torments of adolescence and early womanhood. She is a romantic idealistic in revolt against the puritan snobbery of her parents, trying to live to the full with every nerve, emotion, and instinct laid bare to experience. For her, this is a time of solitary reading daydreams, dancing -- and the first disturbing encounters with sex. The first of Doris Lessing's timeless Children of Violence novels, Martha Quest is an endearing masterpiece.


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Intelligent, sensitive, and fiercely passionate, Martha Quest is a young woman living on a farm in Africa, feeling her way through the torments of adolescence and early womanhood. She is a romantic idealistic in revolt against the puritan snobbery of her parents, trying to live to the full with every nerve, emotion, and instinct laid bare to experience. For her, this is a Intelligent, sensitive, and fiercely passionate, Martha Quest is a young woman living on a farm in Africa, feeling her way through the torments of adolescence and early womanhood. She is a romantic idealistic in revolt against the puritan snobbery of her parents, trying to live to the full with every nerve, emotion, and instinct laid bare to experience. For her, this is a time of solitary reading daydreams, dancing -- and the first disturbing encounters with sex. The first of Doris Lessing's timeless Children of Violence novels, Martha Quest is an endearing masterpiece.

30 review for Martha Quest

  1. 4 out of 5

    Cheryl

    She read as if this were a process discovered by herself; as if there had never been a guide to it. She read like a bird collecting twigs for a nest. She picked up each new book, using the author’s name as a sanction, as if the book were something separate and self-contained, a world in itself. For Martha, life was more than a shelter of similar ideologies. She did not want to become a monomaniac; rather, she was interested in exploring and understanding culture and thought, similari She read as if this were a process discovered by herself; as if there had never been a guide to it. She read like a bird collecting twigs for a nest. She picked up each new book, using the author’s name as a sanction, as if the book were something separate and self-contained, a world in itself. For Martha, life was more than a shelter of similar ideologies. She did not want to become a monomaniac; rather, she was interested in exploring and understanding culture and thought, similarities and divergences. And she accomplished much of her exploration through books: As she turned the pages and the lines of print came gently up through her eyes to her brain, without assault, what she gained was a feeling of warmth, of security; for here were ideas which she had been defending guiltily for years, used as the merest commonplaces. She was at home, she was one of a brotherhood. After having read numerous stories on colonialism in Africa, it is elating to come across a fictional piece of art that offers the rare perspective: a culturally sensitive protagonist. Although I will most likely be swayed by a good bildungsroman, I cherish one even more when it has an astute and perceptive narrative voice I can follow. What was demanded of her was that she should accept something quite different; it was as if something new was demanding conception, with her flesh as host; as if it were a necessity, which she must bring herself to accept, that she should allow herself to dissolve and be formed by that necessity. Fifteen-year old Martha Quest lives on a farm in Southern Africa, with her colonist parents. Instead of growing rich through maize, as the family had anticipated when they moved to the town, they end up destitute. Her father is a veteran and a hypochondriac, and her mother is, well her mother is just plain annoying—though I would add that the way Martha treats her mother, makes her deserving of a slide over the knee… Around them, the world is changing. The former Rhodesia—also formerly known as Southern Rhodesia—is on its way to becoming Zimbabwe. Racial tensions appear ablaze, and soon, Martha finds herself having discussions (and arguments) with her parents and friends, because she soon noticed that her thoughts were different: "She marched, in imagination, down the street, one of the file, feeling the oppression of a police state as if it were heavy on her…” Enters Joss: Martha’s Jewish friend and book buddy. How I wish the book had more of Joss, the intellectual introvert and the only man I believe Martha truly loved. Through Joss, anti-Semitism is illuminated, and Hitler’s reach across the world showcased. I read about this global spread of hatred in Aciman’s Out of Egypt: A Memoir and it’s one of those occurrences I still ponder: why is it so hard to spread education, yet so simple to spread ignorance? One of the reasons I enjoyed this book is because of the third person narrative that is so close, you almost consider it first person; close enough that I found myself ignoring Lessing’s sometimes overactive descriptive scenes, choosing to focus instead on Martha’s inner turmoil. It is the sort of novel that makes you believe it is indeed semi-autobiographical, with this kind of third person voice so close you almost hear a heartbeat—of course, there was also the lingering thought that I was a reader at the mercy of a good writer who knows how to enter the mind of her characters. To label this book anything other than how Barbara Kingslover puts it, a book written about “the problems of the world in a compelling and beautiful way,” would do it no justice, for this is the best way to describe it. I can’t wait to read the second book in this series.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Warwick

    I pulled an old, sellotaped-together 70s paperback of Martha Quest from a bag of books belonging to a friend of mine, vaguely expecting something stodgy and of-its-time. It had me completely entranced. A meticulous, deeply-felt Bildungsroman, it really does what this kind of book is supposed to do (and so rarely succeeds in doing), which is to make you feel like you're there, experiencing this life along with the protagonist – experiencing, in this case, what it's like to grow up in colonial Afr I pulled an old, sellotaped-together 70s paperback of Martha Quest from a bag of books belonging to a friend of mine, vaguely expecting something stodgy and of-its-time. It had me completely entranced. A meticulous, deeply-felt Bildungsroman, it really does what this kind of book is supposed to do (and so rarely succeeds in doing), which is to make you feel like you're there, experiencing this life along with the protagonist – experiencing, in this case, what it's like to grow up in colonial Africa in the 1930s. The novel is slow, I'll concede, but its slowness is immersive. Martha herself is an appealing mix of sardonic intellectual and naïve ingénue – an ‘aloof, dream-logged girl’, she calls herself – who is restless and frustrated at the monotony of life on her parents' farm in rural Southern Rhodesia (here lightly fictionalised as ‘Zambesia’). She argues with her mother, she does aimlessly well at school, she reads whatever she can obtain from a shop at the tiny trading station half a day's walk away, and she struggles to understand the characteristics with which the various gradations of class, race and circumstance have endowed her: She was adolescent, and therefore bound to be unhappy; British, and therefore uneasy and defensive; in the fourth decade of the twentieth century, and therefore inescapably beset with problems of race and class; female, and obliged to repudiate the shackled women of the past. Martha tries her hardest to look past people's race or nationality, but the social and political realities make this impossible – it is, she says despairingly, ‘as if the principle of separateness was bred from the very soil, the sky, the driving sun’. And alongside this exploration of racial politics is a concurrent exploration of sexual politics: Martha is fiercely determined to safeguard her independence and her intellectual authority against the expectations of family life. She looks on pregnant women ‘with shuddering anger, as at the sight of a cage designed for herself’, and little children running around are ‘like a doom made visible’. The interweaving of these two strands runs throughout the novel, to remarkable effect. In the later parts of the book, when Martha moves to a larger town, I thought the details about how she socialised, how she was approached by boys, how they dated and how they discussed and thought about sex, were absolutely riveting; no less so, though in a much more upsetting way, were the extraordinary scenes illustrating the disdain with which black natives were treated by the white colonisers both English and Afrikaner. And interspersed with such scenes come many deft descriptive sketches of the time and place: The sky sweltered with water; several times a day the clouds drove incontinently over the town, everything grew dark for a few minutes in a sudden grey drench of rain, and then the sun was exposed again, and the tarmac rocked off its waves of heat, the trees in the park quivered through waves of rising moisture. January, January in the town. There is a certain kind of writing – British, female, mid-twentieth-century, feminist-inflected – that for some reason or other I always react to with enormous warmth, and Doris Lessing hits many of the buttons that have been pressed for me before by people like Rebecca West or Vera Brittain. I'm not sure why, but the tone, and something about the phraseology, really speaks to me. I would like much more, please; and happily, there are four more novels which cover the rest of Martha's life. Sign me up!

  3. 4 out of 5

    Owlseyes

    Someone called her the “reluctant heroine”, the Nobel Literature prize recipient of 2007, Doris Lessing. At 88, she still heard voices from her childhood. She had been born in Persia. Then she lived in South Rhodesia (what’s today Zimbabwe). At that age she feared for our present civilization: “it’s going to dissolve”:” the precarious patterns of civilization we set”; “we’re living the collapse of society” Julian Mitchell, a friend of Lessing, said about her: “Africa is her soul”. He i Someone called her the “reluctant heroine”, the Nobel Literature prize recipient of 2007, Doris Lessing. At 88, she still heard voices from her childhood. She had been born in Persia. Then she lived in South Rhodesia (what’s today Zimbabwe). At that age she feared for our present civilization: “it’s going to dissolve”:” the precarious patterns of civilization we set”; “we’re living the collapse of society” Julian Mitchell, a friend of Lessing, said about her: “Africa is her soul”. He implied she is an underestimated nature writer. To Bill Moyers she would say: “I’m something very neurotic”. It was a “compulsive” thing. She never stopped writing. In 1962 she affirmed: “very few people care about freedom”; only those who have “guts” worry; otherwise, the “free society dies”. At the age of 30 she arrived to Britain. She died at the age of 94. In Africa she married G. Lessing who was a tobacco auctioneer. Doris did for some time a typist work, at a lawyer’s office; she then resigned writing a novel. Of her childhood she recalls her mother’s “misery”, though a clever woman, who should be working. Blissful was nature (“looking at the stars with brother”) but not “family life”. Father got problems in a leg due to War. Lessing complained she had “no education”: at 14 she left school. Yet, she never stopped reading. Yes, she was “a child of the war”. She recognized both parents were “damaged”. It’s known her affiliation with communism; but also her sympathy for Sufism. For centuries, said Lessing, “a sage (figure) was not part of our culture”; mysticism in the west is a “joke”. Sufism points to the capacities of man, not admitting intermediaries between “us” and “God”. ************ You can easily spot auto-biographical reminiscences in this main character called Martha. This book is a sort of introspective analysis/account of this 16-year-old teen, maturing in Africa. Her parents (the Quests) are of British breed running a farm and surrounded by those of Dutch descent (the Rosenbergs) and other folks: Welsh and Irish...; and, obviously, the native Banto people,… the “kaffirs”…under white colonial power. Martha Quest tells about her states of feeling and mind vis-a-vis the landscape: human and natural. She may feel bored by the talk Mrs Quest has with Mrs Rosenberg at the veranda. How hypocritical all sounds, we get to know via Martha’s eyes. The mother of 11 children with deformed legs has a negative impact on Martha; she muses to herself: she’ll have a career. Even her mother was once beautiful. Martha is an avid reader. Her bedroom is full of books: of poetry (Shelley, Whitman…), of memoires of Lloyd George… and war narratives; but she resists reading H.G. Wells. Facts’ books are hard to read. The Cohen brothers lend her books. Some of her liking; some the other way around. Like this Havelock Ellis book…her mother thinks it’s not good. Martha smokes and reads about the British Empire decadence,…while holding her gun. She’s a hunter too. With scissors she has cut those tight dresses mother had for her. She manufactures her own dressing now on. Rebellion and self-affirmation are on the way. Martha is fed up of her mother’s views of the world (“the Cohens and the Rosenbergs are ”bad influences” she should avoid; “all Kaffirs are pigs …lazy and stupid”). She wonders about that prejudice regarding the Cohens being Jews (do they really control the world??... was really Hitler an opportunist??). On her dressing style (she’d been watching Marnie Rosenberg’s): she’s no more a child. It’s high time for Martha to find her own way and dare to challenge costumes; even going by herself, alone, walking through “dangerous roads” until the 50-people-village. On her way she surprises her consciousness, her bad humor: she’s been too self-conscious…she should stop self-analyzing; she can interrupt the free flow of her thoughts. From the Cohen brothers she’ll request books on “women’s emancipation”. Joss Cohen, the preferred brother, had sent her economy books!! She returned him a book by Engels. Joss Cohen likes economy and sociology books. Solly Cohen prefers Psychology. Martha finds some solace with her father, though a character afflicted by war memories and “imaginary diseases”. And yet father may be right; he forewarns: “Russians will join the Germans to attack us”; ”I’m sure;…I’ve warned you”. War is coming. She once was a mystical; now an atheist. Her house is crumbling. Her refuge is her bedroom. That house “has never been her home”. She thinks parents have been cheating each other. There’s neglect all around. Next year: going to London? There’s lie all around. The truth is that the farm is not “the 20 acres” piece… “the grand land of tobacco”. It’s a sordid house saturated with sleep. Martha’s awakening. Symptomatic that this book has been titled “The Revolted”, in Portuguese language. UPDATES: "Doris Lessing letters reveal 'polygamous, amoral' character" in: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2016... https://www.nature.com/articles/d4158...

  4. 4 out of 5

    Zanna

    We are caught in the flow of Martha's psychological time. Years pass in a treacly flood of hot, irritated afternoons, a single moment of transcendent commune with the universe lasts hours (and takes up several pages), and busy days in the city expand to fill decades with a handful of weeks. I can imagine readers complaining about 'pace' since little happens, but the book engages me, Martha's time is the slow river of story I share gladly with her, and I am happy to swim leisurely in her company I We are caught in the flow of Martha's psychological time. Years pass in a treacly flood of hot, irritated afternoons, a single moment of transcendent commune with the universe lasts hours (and takes up several pages), and busy days in the city expand to fill decades with a handful of weeks. I can imagine readers complaining about 'pace' since little happens, but the book engages me, Martha's time is the slow river of story I share gladly with her, and I am happy to swim leisurely in her company I can also imagine readers complaining that Martha is unlikeable. I cringed at pride wounded so easily it condemns Martha to bouts of even deeper loneliness, and again at her delusion of having finished her rebel self-education. But I cringed because I recognised myself and the teens I know, and I loved Martha because I love myself and my young acquaintances. If I have a criticism of the character, it's that Lessing is too harsh on her avatar. The whole book is flavoured with a bitterness and rage at herself (because I cannot but think Martha is herself - she knows her too miserably well) as well as at her colonist parents and their generation, at the disease of whiteness that gives Martha a poisonous sense of entitlement, that trammels and decays and impoverishes all their lives. Yet it sings, it sings its exotic fury and familiar frustration. Those turns of phrase! The homage of the wolves. And when the natural world enters it is a poem that soothes the heart; the thunder mutters. Distance is created between Martha and the world by the use of her name, always Matty or Miss Quest to others, always Martha to the reader. I think the only exception is the Cohen brothers, who offer her the most vital of all gifts, recognition. The most excruciating thing about her is that Martha responds weakly or negatively to most of the attempts made to reach out to her, but while I have my head in my hands over this, I'm learning the lesson: keep reaching out. Reach out gently but relentlessly. Keep holding out that hand, keep offering that recognition, for as long as you possibly can afford. Because we are all of us irrational and hampered and prone to making decisions we know in our bones are terrible. Oh, if I could have back and live again the years of my life between sixteen and twenty, when I too (despite having parents entirely unlike Martha's, who instead of swaddling my spirit and cramping my mind, taught me joy and set me free) was pulled helplessly by forces I perceived to be outside me, but were actually my socialisation! I feel that Lessing is cultivating shoots of political awareness in this phase of Martha's story to bear fruit later. Martha's political attitudes are skilfully integrated into both the fraught surface formed by action, relationships and psychological focus, and the agitated background where destructive human geographies rot in racial (anti-black and anti-Semitic) and national bigotry and gender hierarchies. Lessing draws each of these very distinct dynamics in multiple sketches. Martha's interrogation by a Dutch patriarch, and the hideous scene in the Club where the wolves force a black waiter to dance are only the seismic shocks of constantly building tensions released. Lessing's discussion of the speech of white bodies and eyes (windows on poisoned souls) also develops the sense of this environment very subtley. Although Martha is influenced and affected by the atmospheres that often disgust her, she is able to effect some opposition by pressing the men into talking with her genuinely instead of in the 'jargon' of Club convention. This human scene is contrasted with the sublime lyrical and epic natural world and the possibilities of 'illumination' it offers (with its changing light). Martha glimpses liberation in landscape, but she is cut off from it for the moment. The gulf Lessing allows between people and land reflects colonial visioning of land as property to be taken and owned and nature to be conquered and used, its inhabitants put to work or casually killed for meat. It struck me that Martha resolved not to kill deer ever again when she shared a moment of transcendence with them, but that she later breaks the promise. For me this epitomises her lumpy, partial and constantly shifting critical resistance to colonial (un)consciousness. Mud, I think, is a crucial signifier; the dreaded touch of mud, of the earth itself, actually grants Martha some healing, nourishing experiences. I relate this to another scene when Martha's relaxed co-worker is pictured sweating and marked by dust, but these 'flaws' enhance her appearance in Martha's eyes. Something is germinating here and it might be the seeds of feminist decolonisation...

  5. 5 out of 5

    Roman Clodia

    This was an uneven read for me from the usually stellar Lessing. It follows a bildungsroman model as the eponymous Martha is 15 when the book opens, 18 and just married when it closes in 1939 with the outbreak of WW2 hovering around the corner. Martha is the sort of character I love: awkward, politically-engaged though naive, unsure of how to move from intellectual positions to activism, rebellious, at odds with her parents and conservative South African society. We see her adrift on her parents This was an uneven read for me from the usually stellar Lessing. It follows a bildungsroman model as the eponymous Martha is 15 when the book opens, 18 and just married when it closes in 1939 with the outbreak of WW2 hovering around the corner. Martha is the sort of character I love: awkward, politically-engaged though naive, unsure of how to move from intellectual positions to activism, rebellious, at odds with her parents and conservative South African society. We see her adrift on her parents' farm till a friend gets her a secretarial job in the city from which she falls into a sort of Bright Young Things group whose embedded racism infuriates Martha (the scene where they force a Black waiter to dance is excruciating) but which she doesn't have the tools to counter, simply shouting and flouncing off. Amidst her gradual self-directed political education through reading, she also explores sex for the first time with two different men but, knowing she doesn't love or even much like them, she somehow is carried along into the marriage with which the book ends. Frustrating, that! This doesn't have, for me, the clarity and immersion of either The Grass Is Singing or The Fifth Child, or the maturity of vision and craft that we see in The Golden Notebook. In too many places the story is told via exposition with indirect speech so that it can lack vitality, and Lessing-as-narrator may step in to comment: 'for both these people were heirs, whether they liked it or not, of the English puritan tradition, where sex is... something to be undergone'. It's hard, too, to get a handle on characters who don't seem to come fully into focus. That said, I'm interested in seeing how Martha's marriage and future develops so I will read on at some point, and hope that Lessing takes a tighter hold on her material.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan Peto

    At the start Martha Quest is a fifteen year old English girl (though time flows quickly... she’s 19 or 20 at the 40% mark and remains about that age for the rest of the book). At the beginning, it’s about 1935: between the World Wars, Hitler is name-dropped, and Martha lives on a farm in Africa. She’s isolated and doesn’t really have a friend her age, another girl, to talk to except for one whose outlook doesn’t match hers. She’s literary, argumentative, and sometimes perplexing, at least to me. At the start Martha Quest is a fifteen year old English girl (though time flows quickly... she’s 19 or 20 at the 40% mark and remains about that age for the rest of the book). At the beginning, it’s about 1935: between the World Wars, Hitler is name-dropped, and Martha lives on a farm in Africa. She’s isolated and doesn’t really have a friend her age, another girl, to talk to except for one whose outlook doesn’t match hers. She’s literary, argumentative, and sometimes perplexing, at least to me. The narrative is not 1st person but it is very intimate. Martha Quest’s thoughts dominate. Occasionally there are brief jumps to other points of view, such as her mother’s and that of an older, inappropriate man. (There is even a longer passage later that is from an omniscient point of view and details the establishment of a Sports Club, and it is engrossing.) Martha is a very interesting girl who terrorizes her parents and others around her. If you don’t like her or can’t sympathize with her or don’t find her interesting, then, you may want to pass, but I was fascinated most of the time and/or flabbergasted. Doris Lessing won the Nobel Prize in 2007. The quality of her writing here is definitely of the highest caliber. Her portrayal of Martha as a feisty thinker who is interested in various -isms such as socialism and racism and colonialism and women’s emancipation (before it became an -ism?) seems to indicate a historical claim that may explain the Nobel. Based on this one work, I do wonder about the award and her worthiness or distinctnessiness, because other writers, other women, are also close observers who produce vivid amusing prose that gets to the heart of interesting things. I guess I’ll have to read more of her work to judge... There are scenes, very vivid scenes. At first I did not necessarily think they linked together and built on each other except to develop Matha’s character or to put aspects of her on display. Later, after I read three-fifths of the story or so, I began to sense how the scenes did build toward a theme or conclusion or maybe only a feeling about people, especially young adults and how they interact and explore the world. Some things did not necessarily make sense to me, such as when Martha avoided Joss or when she backed out of her college exams or kept hanging around with Donovan or... The novel may appear plotless at first, and to some extent, maybe it is, though I did not find it boring. Far from it, though my true rating is probably somewhere between 3 and 4 stars, not 4. There were times at the beginning when what was on display - Martha’s musings - did not fully enchant me, but those doubts did not last. Observing Martha as a young woman in pre-World War 2 Africa filled me with wonder because her experiences and the people she met reminded me of being that age in the late 80s and 90s, not that her details and my details were exact matches of course, but I developed a real affinity for Martha (and therefore Doris Lessing who was a contemporary of my grandparents!). People may tell you that times were different and people were different (and of course in ways they were), but Lessing proves that like-minds transcend generations and circumstances and even genders (even if they aren’t necessarily passed on through the same families). I don’t know what my expectations were exactly or why, but the story is more conventional, more ordinary, than I thought it would be. It’s a coming of age story. Martha escapes the farm when a friend arranges a job for her at his uncles’ law firm in the city. She hangs out with a guy named Donovan, who has hang ups or ways that annoy Martha (and amused me), and then falls in with... and so on. Here are only a few of many things that I enjoyed. They are random and not necessarily representative or what you, in your infinite wisdom, would highlight: “Martha followed her mother obediently, and suddenly found herself saying, in a bright flippant voice, ‘That dirty old man, Mr. McFarline, he tried to make love to me.’ She looked at her father but he was slowly crumbling his bread in time with his thoughts.” - Despite detailing Martha’s internalizations closely, Lessing does offer the reader opportunities to observe and judge her environment without spelling everything out, such as here. “At one moment she scorned him because he had dared to treat her like an attractive young female; and the next because he had taken her at her word, and simply offered books; and the confusion hardened into a nervous repulsion: Well, she could do without Joss!” - Lessing often captures the chaotic thoughts of adolescents quite well, at least as I remembered them while reading her writing. “Martha, at first sight, might pass for the marriageable and accomplished daughter it seemed that Mrs Quest, after all, desired. In her bright-yellow linen dress, her face tinted carefully with cosmetics, she appeared twenty. But the dress has grass stains on it, was crumpled, she was smoking hungrily, and her fingers were already stained with nicotine, her rifle was lying carelessly across her lap, and on it was balanced a book which, as Mrs Quest could see, was called The Decay of the British Empire.” - Hilarious, isn’t it? There are quite a few moments like this. “...she looked from him to the charming young man, his son, and wondered how soon the shrill and complaining strand in his character would strengthen until he too became like his father, a bad-tempered but erudite hermit among his books…” - Good thing my wife did not read this book before we met. If she had had the opportunity to compare me with these guys, I’d probably still be a bachelor.

  7. 4 out of 5

    David

    I quite liked The Good Terrorist, so was prepared to sink into some more litfic by the renowned Doris Lessing. I'd heard that Children of Violence is one of those covert speculative fiction forays that litfic authors sometimes indulge in. If so, it's certainly not in evidence here. (From reading reviews of the subsequent books, it appears the only "speculative" element comes at the very end of the last book.) Martha Quest is basically a bildungsroman about a young Englishwoman in South Africa in I quite liked The Good Terrorist, so was prepared to sink into some more litfic by the renowned Doris Lessing. I'd heard that Children of Violence is one of those covert speculative fiction forays that litfic authors sometimes indulge in. If so, it's certainly not in evidence here. (From reading reviews of the subsequent books, it appears the only "speculative" element comes at the very end of the last book.) Martha Quest is basically a bildungsroman about a young Englishwoman in South Africa in the 30s. Intelligent, observant, and full of herself like most young people, Martha despises her conventional parents who've rather failed at this colonial farming venture, and likewise despises pretty much all of her friends, from the unfortunate Dutch Afrikaans family who befriends the Quests despite the seething resentments still lingering over the Boer War, to the Jewish boys who run the general store in town. Martha eschews racism and classism and considers herself a proper leftist, but she's young and not really firm in her convictions. She leaves home to go work in the big city, and soon falls into a life of partying and debauchery. At first she's the hot new flavor in town, but as she goes through a series of boyfriends, none of whom he really likes, she becomes increasingly disillusioned and disgruntled. The book ends with her getting married to the most decent fellow she's met so far, but already there is disgruntlement in the air. So, why two stars? Lessing is a great writer. Her writing, even in this early novel, practically drips with Nobel Prize-winning refinement and delicacy of prose. It's a character novel focused in minute detail on Martha and her environment, with subtexts of colonialism, antisemitism, classism, sexism, dysfunctional families, and the yearnings of womanhood. Holy crap, I just wrote "the yearnings of womanhood." Which pretty much sums up why this novel only gets two stars and why I'm not going to continue the series without a very, very compelling reason. I mean, yes, it's well-written but it booooored me. Now look, I can read "women's fiction" that's all about getting properly situated in a constrained marriage market - I love Jane Austen, and Charlotte Bronte and George Elliot were decent reads. But Martha Quest isn't leavened with humor or much of a plot, and Martha is the only real main character. We spend the entire novel inside her head, and it's just not that interesting a head. I suspect this book speaks much more to the female experience. It did not speak to me. And I feel a little guilty for panning it, but when I literally have to force myself to finish a book because all that lovely, nuanced prose is so tedious and the story so banal that I cannot find a single shit to give, well, sorry Ms. Lessing, it's not you, it's me. Maybe someday I will try The Golden Notebook.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Manny

    Rebellious, seventeen year old Martha's mother doesn't approve of the way she handles her finances. "Well, it's my money!" snaps the daughter. Mom helpfully points out that she's not yet of age, and if it came down to a court case the judge would rule that she was within her rights in stopping Martha from making unwise purchases. But for some reason this doesn't improve matters. Teenage girls! Aren't they just impossible sometimes? Rebellious, seventeen year old Martha's mother doesn't approve of the way she handles her finances. "Well, it's my money!" snaps the daughter. Mom helpfully points out that she's not yet of age, and if it came down to a court case the judge would rule that she was within her rights in stopping Martha from making unwise purchases. But for some reason this doesn't improve matters. Teenage girls! Aren't they just impossible sometimes?

  9. 4 out of 5

    Ed

    Since she won the Nobel (and received it with what I thought was funny, dry nonchalance--utterly unimpressed with herself) I finally made good on a years-old, smiling-nodding pledge to a former roommate of my brother's (Ploughman anyone?) that I would check out some of Doris Lessing's stuff. It helped that there was a hilariously large English books section at the Brockihaus (massive 2nd hand store common in Switzerland) where we went halloween costume shopping last year. I made my Palin powersu Since she won the Nobel (and received it with what I thought was funny, dry nonchalance--utterly unimpressed with herself) I finally made good on a years-old, smiling-nodding pledge to a former roommate of my brother's (Ploughman anyone?) that I would check out some of Doris Lessing's stuff. It helped that there was a hilariously large English books section at the Brockihaus (massive 2nd hand store common in Switzerland) where we went halloween costume shopping last year. I made my Palin powersuit selections rather quickly, and while male friends tried on dresses and everyone browsed various clownish Fasnacht Guggämusik get-ups and put on smelly wigs, I went and found a couple Doris Lessing books and The Great Gatsby. It took me forever to get through the two 'Children of Violence' books I bought. Of the five, this is the first, and the other one I read (the Four-Geted City, review forthcoming) is the last. Suffice it to say that I will not be rounding out my experience with the middle three. At first, 'Martha Quest' really charmed me. There have been so many books about disaffected adolescents at odds with society and expectations, struggling with identity, rebelling for the sake of rebelling, blah diddy blah...some of them are OK, some of them are garbage, a lot in between...but it honestly never even occurred to me that it would be far more interesting if this conflicted Holden Caulfield protagonist were a girl. The perspectives Lessing explores through the volatile eyes of Martha Quest, a tragically attractive destitute farmgirl from an English family on the Veld in South Africa in the 30's, are myriad and surprising and fresh--and one can assume they were even more astonishing to readers at the time of the book's writing. Martha moves to the 'city' at 16 against the wishes of her parents and is confronted all at once with enormous moral and personal quandaries...racism, nationalism (English-Dutch), sexism, class divisions, sex and boys, work and money, drinking and smoking, anti-semitism, the approaching war in Europe... She approaches all of this with a genre-typical mix of independence, occasional obnoxiousness, feigned disinterest, pendulation between over-self-confidence and crushing self-doubt...and gradually tries to orient herself politically and socially in a way that she can accept, nonetheless cordially navigating the immense pressures of überconservative South African white society. That's the book. I guess I didn't realize at the moment I started it that it was the first in a quintet, and that it was going to be exposition from cover to cover. I kept waiting for a punchline, for a plot to begin, for a point. Apparently Lessing had much bigger plans, and this whole book was serving the basic purpose of providing a very detailed social and psychological background for a complicated protagonist who would move through the next four books over the next four decades. Unfortunately, though I liked Martha, and though the context was wildly new to me (I've only read one other book based in SA, but it was modern SA and by JM Coetzee...overwhelmingly male perspective...), it just wasn't enough to compel me through thousands more pages of non-story.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Lawyer

    Martha Quest: In Search of One's Self This novel was read in conjunction with the group 2015: The Year of Reading Women/a> Review to follow. All things in moderation. Theraflu. Avoiding prose in the throes of delirium. Martha Quest: In Search of One's Self This novel was read in conjunction with the group 2015: The Year of Reading Women/a> Review to follow. All things in moderation. Theraflu. Avoiding prose in the throes of delirium.

  11. 4 out of 5

    El

    Like a lot of frustrated fifteen-year-old girls, Martha Quest is horrified by her parents' convictions. She lives with her parents on a farm in colonial Rhodesia some time before WWII, and she spends most of her time dreaming and reading and sticking to herself. Her parents don't approve of the options Martha might have for friendship, aside from the neighbor's daughter who is heading down the same road as Martha's parents - in other words: boring, stuck-up, shallow. Over the next few years Marth Like a lot of frustrated fifteen-year-old girls, Martha Quest is horrified by her parents' convictions. She lives with her parents on a farm in colonial Rhodesia some time before WWII, and she spends most of her time dreaming and reading and sticking to herself. Her parents don't approve of the options Martha might have for friendship, aside from the neighbor's daughter who is heading down the same road as Martha's parents - in other words: boring, stuck-up, shallow. Over the next few years Martha realizes the only way to find herself is to get out of Dodge. She moves to a big city, gets herself a job and a small apartment, and has a short line of men interested in her in some capacity. Her sexual awakening is rather confusing, as it can be for women, and she finds herself frustrated by her man-friends sometimes sloppy attempts at amorous motions. For a coming-of-age novel (man, do I hate that term), it's not that bad. The racism of her parents and cultural background of the farm and its inhabitants gives the story a step up on other similar books. I'm curious to see what kinds of shenanigans Martha gets into from here. This is the first book in the Children of Violence series, of which there are five total. I'm not exactly eager to hit up Book Two, but I expect to get around to it eventually. Truth is I'm mostly interested in reading the fifth book in the series, The Four-Gated City, but my brain can't just jump to the end of a series like that without reading the previous stories. As I mentioned in one of my status updates about this book, as much as I enjoyed reading it when I sat down with it, I kept thinking about Anna Wulf in The Golden Notebook. Strangely enough, while I read The Golden Notebook I didn't think I enjoyed it that much. Now, four years later while reading another book by Lessing, I realized that I think I really did appreciate The Golden Notebook more than I thought I had. Which makes me feel like I need to re-read it. Which I don't do very often, if at all. I suppose that's a sign of a good writer, huh? I also now want to go to Africa. Thanks, Doris Lessing.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Toria

    Not really a book for. Don't think Doris Lessing's books is for me in general. Didn't connect with either the story or characters and didn't really have an intresting reading experience Not really a book for. Don't think Doris Lessing's books is for me in general. Didn't connect with either the story or characters and didn't really have an intresting reading experience

  13. 4 out of 5

    Rocío G.

    Lessing portrays the coming-of-age of her young protagonist through the use of fluid language that emphasizes the 'thing-whithin´, the restless adolescent spirit, trapped inside a changing body she's still getting used to. Martha, who is fifteen at the beginning of the novel, feels stifled by her parents and surroundings. The impoverished farm in rural Rhodesia, ruled over by her disillusioned sickly father and her overbearing mother, is too narrow a setting for Martha, who hungers for books, ex Lessing portrays the coming-of-age of her young protagonist through the use of fluid language that emphasizes the 'thing-whithin´, the restless adolescent spirit, trapped inside a changing body she's still getting used to. Martha, who is fifteen at the beginning of the novel, feels stifled by her parents and surroundings. The impoverished farm in rural Rhodesia, ruled over by her disillusioned sickly father and her overbearing mother, is too narrow a setting for Martha, who hungers for books, experience, fully being-in-the-world. She leaves home to work as a secretary in a lawyer firm in town . Her first encounters with men, dancing, drinking and sex repulse and enthrall her as she widens the horizon of the things she wants to know, love and be. Lessing incisively criticizes the hypocrisy, racism and antisemitism of the white society of the British African colonies (a critique that doesn't spare Martha herself). She also turns a critical eye to the politics of flirting, dating and sex in the pre-war period. In Martha's world, young men pretend young women are pretty figurines to pet, kiss and flatter indiscriminately while being afraid of sex and real intimacy. The women tolerate their silly buffoonery in secret hopes that one of them might take them seriously enough to marry them. Martha observes all of this with derision and tells herself she is above the charade of her peers, yet in the end, seems to play her part in it all the same. At the close of the novel she marries a member of the Sport's Club, whom she met at a Sport's Club dance, seemingly for no other reason than the fact that she managed to get him to engage in serious intimacy. One of the most interesting aspects of this novel is that Martha Quest makes for a very flawed heroine. Sure, she is well-read, intellectually curious, critical of the status-quo and apparently sympathetic to the plight of Jews and native Africans alike. However she strikes me as a fundamentally selfish and narcissistic person. And I mean beyond the typical adolescent self-involvement that dictates constantly thinking about oneself and considering oneself through the lens of authority, peers and social convention (and altering oneself accordingly). Martha does not care about a single human being in this book (she only has a nice thought to spare in regards to her boss Jasper Cohen who she likes instantly because he is very ugly and very kind). All around her, people's choices, reactions and ideas disgust her. She considers people in terms of characters she doesn't want to become. She admires, loves and truly befriends nobody (Marnie Van Resberg, Joss and Solly Cohen annoy her more than she seems to likes them, for example). Furthermore, she seems to care about socialist causes and the racial divide in the Colony only insofar as these beliefs differentiate her from her peers and set her in opposition to her parents.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Margaret

    Part of The Year of Reading Women group reads. Overall, I like Doris Lessing. The Golden Notebook was lovely, The Good Terrorist was interesting, and I'd been meaning to get back into her work for a while. A multi-volume read as part of a group of Goodreaders? Sure, I'll take that on. Martha Quest, the eponymous character of this volume, grows up on a rural African farm, chatting with the local shopkeeper's boys who she relies on for books as well. She's well-read, spunky, but definitely a produ Part of The Year of Reading Women group reads. Overall, I like Doris Lessing. The Golden Notebook was lovely, The Good Terrorist was interesting, and I'd been meaning to get back into her work for a while. A multi-volume read as part of a group of Goodreaders? Sure, I'll take that on. Martha Quest, the eponymous character of this volume, grows up on a rural African farm, chatting with the local shopkeeper's boys who she relies on for books as well. She's well-read, spunky, but definitely a product of her surroundings even if she is trying to escape them. When she does escape, it's to another more urban life entirely. She matures and changes, naturally, over her experiences. There's a touch of "Mad Men" in the second half, with office work and the environment around it replacing the African farm that served as the backdrop for the first half. While I was frustrated with the ending of this volume, it won't stop me from finding out what happens next to Martha. Doris Lessing tends to write very intriguing female characters, and I'm interested to see what where Martha will go next.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Diana Stevan

    Doris Lessing is described as "one of the most serious, intelligent and honest writers of the whole post-war generation"(SUNDAY TIMES). I found her book curious. Although I appreciated her in-depth exploration of a young woman's transition from living with her parents on a sheltered farm in Africa to working in an urban setting with all its temptations, I had trouble liking the protagonist. She couldn't make up her mind, and all her flip-flopping was annoying. I couldn't wait to finish the book, Doris Lessing is described as "one of the most serious, intelligent and honest writers of the whole post-war generation"(SUNDAY TIMES). I found her book curious. Although I appreciated her in-depth exploration of a young woman's transition from living with her parents on a sheltered farm in Africa to working in an urban setting with all its temptations, I had trouble liking the protagonist. She couldn't make up her mind, and all her flip-flopping was annoying. I couldn't wait to finish the book, but for the wrong reason.

  16. 4 out of 5

    freckledbibliophile

    A coming of age story. A story of a girls journey trying to deal with a mentally disconnected (results of war) father and a pathetically jealous mother. How she does this, is what broke my heart.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Judy Diamond

    Doris Lessing's 5 volume "Children of Violence" series "Martha Quest" is the first book in Doris Lessing's "Children of Violence" series. It is well written, keeps your interest, and gives you a lot of historical as well as autobiographical data. The details and descriptions of places and characters make you feel that it's all real and happening. The character of Martha Quest is many faceted, and I was very curious to see what happens in her life. She is British, growing up in Africa with all of Doris Lessing's 5 volume "Children of Violence" series "Martha Quest" is the first book in Doris Lessing's "Children of Violence" series. It is well written, keeps your interest, and gives you a lot of historical as well as autobiographical data. The details and descriptions of places and characters make you feel that it's all real and happening. The character of Martha Quest is many faceted, and I was very curious to see what happens in her life. She is British, growing up in Africa with all of the problems and situations that accompany this way of life. "A perfect Marriage" continues with Martha's story. We are immersed in her decision to marry, her marriage, how she copes, what her expectations are, and unfortunately her disillusionment. It's all written with language and a style that are so real. You can feel and understand the roller coaster ride of her emotions. "A ripple from the storm" deals mainly with her involvement with communism and the continuation of her marriage. Martha is a person who involves herself fully in whatever she does, no half way measures; unfortunately that leads to rude awakenings in many aspects of her life. She leaves her husband, which also means that she gives up all rights to her daughter; this indicates the enormity of her decision. "Landlocked" deals with her total commitment to communism, and an ardent communist for her next husband. The book, although well written sometimes feels like you're being politically brain washed, and that communism is the focal point of the story. Although I felt overwhelmed with the politics in this novel, if Doris Lessing's objective was to immerse you in a very realistic political environment, she definitely accomplished her goal. This novel ends with her total disillusionment with communism, another divorce, and her boarding a ship for England. "The four-gated city" is a 700 page, complex novel that deals with several issues. London is not at all the way she imagined it (don't you know there was a war here? is the response she gets to any question she asks). It seems like for the first time in her adult life she's not sure what she believes in or wants, and for several months lives from day to day. She shuns communism, although she's often offered communism related jobs. She ends up being involved in a totally dysfunctional extended family, as a combination nurturer, administrative assistant, housekeeper, and everything else that's required. She sees the family members going through many of the phases and ideologies that interested her during her life in Africa, and tries to dissuade them. She realizes that she's always had the ability to see into the future and to know what other people are thinking. A few hundred pages of this novel appear to be science fiction. While I was reading this novel, I wasn't happy with its length and preponderance of issues; I felt that it could have used some editing. After thinking about it for a few days, I realized that the number of issues that were discussed, resolved and unresolved were necessary for the novel and series to be successful and understood. I consider the "Children of violence" series to be a masterpiece. I'm glad that I waited to read it until I was an adult. As a less mature person, I wouldn't have felt the impact and understanding of Martha Quest from childhood through her mature years. Throughout the series her actions and emotions are totally credible and I totally empathized with her at times, and chastised her actions and thoughts at other times. I thoroughly recommend this series if you're interested in a totally realistic story of a very interesting characters life.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Shehroze Ameen

    I remember seeing the cover of this book and honestly being interested in the author. the late Doris Lessing simply did not disappoint. Its a good start, to be honest with you. The characters are introduced slowly, no doubt, but the time taken is worth the trouble in my honest opinion. Told in a first person perspective and being a historical fiction-cum-autobiography of the author, you follow the story of Martha Quest living in South Rhodesia (modern day Zimbabwe), as she progresses to woman hoo I remember seeing the cover of this book and honestly being interested in the author. the late Doris Lessing simply did not disappoint. Its a good start, to be honest with you. The characters are introduced slowly, no doubt, but the time taken is worth the trouble in my honest opinion. Told in a first person perspective and being a historical fiction-cum-autobiography of the author, you follow the story of Martha Quest living in South Rhodesia (modern day Zimbabwe), as she progresses to woman hood up till the point that she departs for England. The story of course doesn't end there, since this is the first part of the Children of Violence series. I'll repeat again: the time taken is worth the trouble. Trouble here means reading the book. It describes everything with vivid and luscious descriptions that merge a typical British psyche of the era and with hints from the author indicating her perspective in hindsight. Those are of course subliminally portrayed and do not affect the story itself. The main protagonist is as much a living sentient being as her environment - and hence there arises in this work a need to maintain an unbiased view while reading the work. That's the beauty of Doris Lessing as a writer - she writes a sophisticated work, if not thoroughly detailed. I haven't touched the characters yet, because by doing so I'll enter spoiler territory. I leave it to the readers, so that they are free to make whatever opinions they feel comfortable with.

  19. 5 out of 5

    James F

    The first book of one of my favorite series, The Children of Violence quintet. I read this for the first time about forty years ago. It is semi-autobiographical -- I am re-reading the series before reading Lessing's autobiography, to see how close it is; Martha Quest, the heroine of the series, is taken from age 16 through her marriage in this volume (set in 1937-1939). This is not the best book of the series, and it really owes its interest in large part to the protagonist's development in the The first book of one of my favorite series, The Children of Violence quintet. I read this for the first time about forty years ago. It is semi-autobiographical -- I am re-reading the series before reading Lessing's autobiography, to see how close it is; Martha Quest, the heroine of the series, is taken from age 16 through her marriage in this volume (set in 1937-1939). This is not the best book of the series, and it really owes its interest in large part to the protagonist's development in the later volumes, but it is psychologically "true to life" and a good description of the meaninglessness of life as a privileged minority (white colonists in Rhodesia), where thinking too much or too honestly can be dangerous to ones self image.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Linda Abhors the New GR Design

    Abrupt ending, inconsistent feelings of character, disheartening ending must all be forgiven when one takes into account that it's heavily autobiographical. Life is what it is. That being said, I probably wouldn't read it again. Abrupt ending, inconsistent feelings of character, disheartening ending must all be forgiven when one takes into account that it's heavily autobiographical. Life is what it is. That being said, I probably wouldn't read it again.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Janice

    I read nonstop. I thought I had read it before, but it seemed completely new, so it must have been a long time ago. I went straight from the final page to the first page of "A Proper Marriage". I read nonstop. I thought I had read it before, but it seemed completely new, so it must have been a long time ago. I went straight from the final page to the first page of "A Proper Marriage".

  22. 4 out of 5

    Alistair Mackay

    I think I might just have to accept that Dorris Lessing isn’t for me. I really want to love her work - it’s trailblazing socialist, feminist, anti-racism and it’s about my own underrepresented part of the world - and I’m truly grateful it exists, but I just really struggle to keep reading. I couldn’t force myself to finish The Golden Notebook. I did finish this, and there were things I enjoyed about it, but it was hard going. Maybe it’s too slow, maybe it’s the complicated language - in this cas I think I might just have to accept that Dorris Lessing isn’t for me. I really want to love her work - it’s trailblazing socialist, feminist, anti-racism and it’s about my own underrepresented part of the world - and I’m truly grateful it exists, but I just really struggle to keep reading. I couldn’t force myself to finish The Golden Notebook. I did finish this, and there were things I enjoyed about it, but it was hard going. Maybe it’s too slow, maybe it’s the complicated language - in this case, maybe the voice of the moody teenage protagonist. What I loved: being immersed in 1930s Southern Rhodesia, with WWII looming, with a protagonist who is trying to find herself, and make space for herself in a racially-fraught, conservative (and yet surprisingly hedonistic) culture. I picked this up because Deborah Levy, in The Cost of Living, said it “forensically described her own [mother’s] life growing up in the sterility and ignorance of South Africa’s white colonial culture,” And it really does do that amazingly well.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Eleanor

    I went into a reading slump halfway through this book - no fault of Doris Lessing's, but a combination of an enjoyable project cleaning up my photography collection, and the general malaise caused by the relentless march of COVID-19 through the world and in my own part of Australia. I liked the book very much for its honesty and truth. Martha is a real and believable person, with as many faults as virtues. That in itself is refreshing. I can believe in her and I want things to get better for her I went into a reading slump halfway through this book - no fault of Doris Lessing's, but a combination of an enjoyable project cleaning up my photography collection, and the general malaise caused by the relentless march of COVID-19 through the world and in my own part of Australia. I liked the book very much for its honesty and truth. Martha is a real and believable person, with as many faults as virtues. That in itself is refreshing. I can believe in her and I want things to get better for her as she matures. It's a pleasure to know that there are four more books in which to follow her development. 3.5 stars.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Carol

    3.5 stars. Another that I review as ‘so much I loved, some I was bored with.’ Reminded me in parts of re-reading old journals I wrote as a youth, which gave me more sympathy for Martha. Often I was discouraged by her acquiescence , other times proud of her defiance. Will definitely read more by Lessing.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Ellison

    I read this first probably 50 yrs ago, at roughly the same age as the protagonist. I thought it was an almost perfect description of workings of a late adolescent mind. I still do.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Iamthesword

    I read LANDLOCKED some time ago and loved it - even though it's from the middle of CHILDREN OF VIOLENCE. So I'm not really surprized that I also liked the first volume of Doris Lessing's series. There are no "big events" in this novel. A girl grows up, moves to town, makes her own steps in the new surrounding, and finally gets married. She is making new aquaintances along the way, some stable, some less stable. But it's all about the experiences along the way. Martha is well read, a headstrong ch I read LANDLOCKED some time ago and loved it - even though it's from the middle of CHILDREN OF VIOLENCE. So I'm not really surprized that I also liked the first volume of Doris Lessing's series. There are no "big events" in this novel. A girl grows up, moves to town, makes her own steps in the new surrounding, and finally gets married. She is making new aquaintances along the way, some stable, some less stable. But it's all about the experiences along the way. Martha is well read, a headstrong character that is sure about many thing, but also young and insecure - so sometimes she starts to be less sure. Lessing's strength lies in connecting individuals and their surroundings. There is always a link between what Martha wants/thinks/does and what (she thinks) society demands of her - she's in line with it, she rebells against it, she's annoyed by it, but she is never untouched by it. Lessing is masterful in showing all those interdependencies which makes the characters and their actions enjoyably complex. Their acting is always tied to the place and the time they live in and that makes Lessing's books a thick and graphic describing of the atmosphere of certain places and ages - in this case the British colonies shortly before the outbreak of World War II. Imperialism, racism and antisemitism are part of everyday life and while some people despise one or the other, they are not the majority. And even worse for Martha, this majority are her aquaintances, collegues, potential friends - how much of an outsider do you want to become in the town you just moved to? The costs for acting morally are high and you need to be able to afford them. Or even worse, can you be sure that a belief is morally right when you're 18 and almost everyone around you is convinced of the opposite? Lessing asks all these complex questions and it's through these complexities that MARTHA QUEST shines. My only criticism is the amount of exposition in the first half. But as the first volume of a five part series that's probably necessary. I'm already looking forward to the next volume anyway.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jamie

    For whatever reason, this one took me quite a while to work through, but Lessing has yet to do wrong by me. Martha Quest is a bit of a shit, isn't she? Something like the little sister that frequently pisses you off with her pretentious idealisms and whiny protests against "The Man." (Or maybe something like yourself, five/ten/twenty years ago.) At points, it felt like I was reading an interlude-esque flashback about Anna Wulf (of Lessing's fantastic Golden Notebook), but at others, Martha seems For whatever reason, this one took me quite a while to work through, but Lessing has yet to do wrong by me. Martha Quest is a bit of a shit, isn't she? Something like the little sister that frequently pisses you off with her pretentious idealisms and whiny protests against "The Man." (Or maybe something like yourself, five/ten/twenty years ago.) At points, it felt like I was reading an interlude-esque flashback about Anna Wulf (of Lessing's fantastic Golden Notebook), but at others, Martha seems so stunningly herself that you can't really fathom her being anything but what she presents in her narrative. Par for the course, Lessing's psychological insight seems the central strength of the novel. The only thing that fell flat for me was the progression of time in the narrative: near the end of the novel, Martha keeps thinking "How could so many things have changed in only a matter of weeks???" I haven't gone back through to check my dates or anything of that sort, but I wonder whether it's at all logically possible that these events happened in less than a month. Martha: gets job in town; becomes part of an elite Sports Club crowd; loses interest in job; becomes a bit of a party-animal; makes resolution to be better at job; has a brief tedious affair with an obvious suspect; has another brief less-tedious affair with a culturally-undesirable; becomes socially ostracized because of said second-affair; resolves to change; reverts to old-hat; becomes invested in job; seeks other job; has one other affair; [big spoiler]; end-of-novel. Yeah...this just isn't jiving for me. I haven't been eighteen in, well, almost seven years...but I think my sense of the passage of time was a LEEEEETTLE bit more stable than that. All damn good, though, in a general sense. I'll certainly plan to read the next one in the series. (Though I may re-read The Golden Notebook before that happens.)

  28. 4 out of 5

    A

    As I was reading the book, the comparison to Catcher in the Rye never actually occurred to me, but suddenly, now that I read several such comparisons, it does make a lot of sense. Like Caulfield, Martha is often a frustrating character, always at odds with herself, and full of herself the way a lot of smart, idealistic teens tend to be. Lessing's approach to the character strikes me as more overtly ironic, since she does not focus everything through Martha's thoughts, rather allows us to get int As I was reading the book, the comparison to Catcher in the Rye never actually occurred to me, but suddenly, now that I read several such comparisons, it does make a lot of sense. Like Caulfield, Martha is often a frustrating character, always at odds with herself, and full of herself the way a lot of smart, idealistic teens tend to be. Lessing's approach to the character strikes me as more overtly ironic, since she does not focus everything through Martha's thoughts, rather allows us to get into a variety of different headspaces, panning out to a broader, more objective perspective as necessary. While a lesser writer using this approach might drive me nuts (I'm looking at you, Mr. Frank Herbert), Lessing manages to pull it all off quite seamlessly, reminding one of the broad novels of the 19th century with their omniscient narrators and so forth. As a result, we get a broader perspective on the kind of place Martha is born to, with its racial, ethnic, and class issues. The way in which Martha is both engaged and disconnected seems very honest and true to the character. On one level, I could relate Martha's struggles to be authentic and seek out new, fulfilling experiences to my own. The world she's born into is clearly more limiting for women, but many of the issues still resonate. Martha ultimately fails to live up to her ideals and desires, in the end doing something she swears she would not do, but don't we all do this all to often? Especially when we are young and caught up in our little emotional realities? I suppose, essentially, that's the theme of the novel. It will be interesting to see how Martha progresses throughout the remainder of the series. So yeah, good story, deftly written, great psychological and social insights. Hearkens back to ye olde bildungsroman, which all good novelists should write at least once and of which I am very fond.

  29. 4 out of 5

    catinca.ciornei

    A coming-of-age realistic description of youthful intellectual femininity trying to find its place and meaning in a 1940's English colony inside Africa. I'm amazed how this book is not more talked about; rarely has a feminine character been so beautifully described, as far as I know! Reading this has been probably as enjoyable as discovering Simone de Beauvoir when I was very young - delightful! Martha Quest the character is young and full of unexplainable expectations for her future, and gets a A coming-of-age realistic description of youthful intellectual femininity trying to find its place and meaning in a 1940's English colony inside Africa. I'm amazed how this book is not more talked about; rarely has a feminine character been so beautifully described, as far as I know! Reading this has been probably as enjoyable as discovering Simone de Beauvoir when I was very young - delightful! Martha Quest the character is young and full of unexplainable expectations for her future, and gets at the end of the book to simply fall somewhat into place expectedly and normally, in time with the times. It's very hard to describe the young because one looses that sense of misplacement and endless possibility of youth quite fast, adulthood sneaks in unobserved, and you forget how 'you' was forged. But Mrs. Lessing explains very well - e.g. "For she was suffering that misery peculiar to the young, that they are going to be cheated by circumstances out of the full liver every nerve and instinct is clamouring for." There is a feeling of rawness and not-beloning specific for adolescence, which Mrs. Lessing describes very well. Martha is not formed, she's not strong enough to take the hard decision of shaping her beliefs with proper reading and exercise and learning, and this is something most of us can easily relate to. I'll end my review with the quote accompanying this book's third part, taken from Proust - "In the lives of most women everything, even the greatest sorrow, resolves itself into of question of 'trying on'".

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    I think I may need to wait to review the books until I finish the entire Children of Violence series. Right now I'm left with a strange feeling of anticipation, but not necessarily the desire to pursue that expectation. The book is so well written-- Doris Lessing's descriptions of people's physical appearance is always remarkable-- but in terms of plot it seems odd that she was able to get more than 300 pages out of the few events in the book. I also felt like she abandoned certain plot points a I think I may need to wait to review the books until I finish the entire Children of Violence series. Right now I'm left with a strange feeling of anticipation, but not necessarily the desire to pursue that expectation. The book is so well written-- Doris Lessing's descriptions of people's physical appearance is always remarkable-- but in terms of plot it seems odd that she was able to get more than 300 pages out of the few events in the book. I also felt like she abandoned certain plot points and characters too quickly, and I can only hope that these people (especially Joss Cohen) will feature more heavily in the series after being introduced in the first book. Finally, I went back and forth on my opinions if Martha's intellectual development. She started off as this fiercely intelligent teenager, and seemed to end vapid. And I was at first annoyed by this, until I thought that this is an authentic representation of the journey young, intelligent women often find themselves on as they grow up and try to cobble together an identity as an intelligent person, a woman, a friend, a lover, an employee. I hope that she finds her intellectual center as she grows, and we aren't always dealing with the vapid side of her that comes out at the Sport Club, but for the first book in the series I can appreciate how it depicts a difficult process. I will keep reading the series, but I hope a little bit more happens in the next books.

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